“The Battle of Otterburn”


As armies under Earls Douglas of Scotland and Percy (aka Hotspur) of Northumberland battle, the dying Douglas asks Montgomery to conceal his corpse under a bush. Percy refuses to surrender to the bush but does yield to Montgomery


Needless to say, despite texts such as Child's "A" and "C," it was not Harry "Hotspur" Percy who killed Douglas at Otterburn. It is likely that Douglas's raid would not have been so successful had not the English been divided; as often happened, the Percies of Northumberland were feuding with the other great border family, the Nevilles (of Raby and Westmoreland).

Scottish sources are not really clear what was happening here. Stephen Boardman, in _The Early Stewart Kings_, notes that the Scots and French were creating a semi-coordinated attack on the English, with the inept government of Richard II not really able to do much about it (John of Gaunt had recently conducted a very damaging raid on Scotland, but the war in France was going badly).

It appears that the Scots sent down two armies, one into Cumbria toward Carlisle and one toward Northumberland.

It has been theorized that the two Scottish armies were supposed to meet for an attack on Carlisle. But Douglas decided to go his own way. Without Douglas's troops, the western army ended up turning back. Possible, but hard to prove. For that matter, it might have been the other way: The western army might have been intended to turn east; Boardman argues that all our Scottish sources are biased by a political quarrel in Scotland between pro- and anti-Douglas factions.

Indeed, the death of Douglas almost certainly caused Scotland more harm than his victory gained them; apart from pushing Richard II of England to try harder to defeat them, the Earl had no son, and the quarrels over the Douglas succession led to many political difficulties. - RBW

Historical references

  • 1388 - Battle of Otterburn. Scots under Douglas attack England. Although Douglas is killed in the battle, the Scots defeat the English and capture their commander Harry "Hotspur" Percy

Cross references


  1. Child 161, "The Battle of Otterburn" (5 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
  2. Bronson 161, "The Battle of Otterburn" (2 versions)
  3. Percy/Wheatley I, pp. 35-51+notes on pp. 53-54, "The Battle of Otterbourne" (1 text)
  4. Leach, pp. 436-446, "The Battle of Otterburn" (2 texts)
  5. OBB 127, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text)
  6. Gummere, pp. 94-104+323-325, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text)
  7. HarvClass-EP1, pp. 88-93, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text)
  8. DT 161, OTTRBURN*
  9. Roud #3293
  10. BI, C161


Author: unknown
Earliest date: c. 1550
Found in: Britain(Scotland)